Conservation of birds through national heritage: A new and innovative approach

April 22, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Currency bills, coins and postage stamps all significantly contribute towards the national heritage of any nation. They bear the mark of important aspects of national history, archaeology, reflects images of different heads of states, significant contributors, historic characters, politicians, monarchs, emperors, lawmakers, mythological characters, statesmen, politicians, national architecture and monuments, national historic and heritage sites, different national symbols, people, social and cultural life of a nation, national sports, national and international sports events and sports personalities, celebrities, aboriginal communities, arts and crafts, wildlife, and natural resources to name only a few. In short, currency bills, coins and postage stamps carry the glimpses of a nation in their own right and often serve as an important window to peep through the steps of history to study, appreciate and understand the socio-cultural context of any nation or a country, both young and old. The practice of systematic study of currency is known as numismatics and the collection of coins is now considered to be a part of that although may not necessarily include both; while the collection of stamps is broadly called philately. The collectors of different currencies are therefore regarded as numismatists; while the stamp collectors are popularly known as philatelists.

Severe anthropogenic impacts across the globe have severely and negatively impacted the natural ecosystems, biomes, habitats and environments. As a consequence, global wildlife including avifauna have been significantly impacted due to environmental pollution, climate change, spread and dissemination of different diseases, uncontrolled and unattended forest fires, habitat destruction and habitat fragmentation, illegal infringements and grazing in protected areas, capture, hunting and poaching of several vulnerable species, introduction of exotic species, infrastructural developments in fragile ecosystems and expansion of agriculture  and industries among several other important factors. The currency bills, coins and postage stamps of different countries have been increasingly reflecting the local wildlife, including avifauna, as an important national heritage and resource. This silent approach has an important nationalistic as well as international appeal in prioritizing wildlife and avifauna conservation.

Several currency bills, coins and postage stamps have now been specifically designed and released to address the avifauna hallmark of different modern nations. Such iconic and socio-cultural bonding to national avifauna resources could be well connected and utilized for conservation of several threatened, vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered avifauna members around the globe. These not only help in communicating the message of conservation of birds of national, regional and local importance among local community members; but also carry the universal message of bird conservation through dedicated numismatists and philatelists to the international community. Global avian members are being challenged with several natural as well as anthropogenic factors that are threatening several vulnerable species with the risks of extinction. Hence it is important to utilize every possible opportunity for portraying the need for avian conservation. The iconographic presentation of different species of birds through currency bills, coins and postage stamps is an important, innovative and interesting avenue in popularizing conservation of different avifauna members.  This could be considered as a new and important approach in capturing avian conservation through national heritage and iconography. Several responsible nations across the continents of Asia, Africa, Australia, the Americas and Europe have already come forward in using bird icons in their currency bills, coins and postage stamps. However, more countries need to be involved, particularly the developing and under developed nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America that represent the bulk of the grandeurs of global avian biodiversity. By working together, we could utilize this innovative avenue to be an important ambassador for popularizing conservation of birds among global communities.

Article contributed by Saikat Kumar Basu

Enjoy a Family Outing at Tropical Birdland

February 1, 2015 by  
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Located in the picturesque village of Desford, near Leicester in England, Tropical Birdland is home to more than 250 birds, including a collection of free-flying parrots from all over the world. Visitors will have the opportunity to stroll at leisure through the main walk-through aviary, view newly hatched or hatching chicks, interact with birds on Parrot Path, and take a walk on the wild side along the Woodland Walk, with the possibility of seeing kingfishers, jays, woodpeckers and squirrels among the trees and shrubs.

Tropical Birdland opened to the public in 1984, when Richard Hopper decided to turn his hobby into a business. With breeding of endangered species as one of the park’s main goals, aviaries were built and rare species were added to the growing collection of birds housed at the facilities. In 1992, Hopper started training birds for free flight, with his very first bird, a blue and gold macaw named Jackie, being the first to take flight. Today, several parrots and macaws spend their days out in the open with the option of free flight, returning to their sleeping quarters each night.

Among the rare and unusual birds at Tropical Birdland is a pair of highly endangered hyacinth macaws (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus). Found only in the wetlands of the Pantanal – the world’s largest tropical wetland area found in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraquay – and some areas of the Amazon jungle in Brazil, this spectacularly beautiful species is the largest, and quite likely the strongest, parrot species in the world. As with many bird species around the world, their continued existence in the wild is threatened by deforestation as humans turn their habitat into farmland.

Other exotic birds housed at Tropical Birdland include the blue and gold macaw (Ara ararauna), the green-winged macaw (Ara chloroptera), the bare-eyed cockatoo (Cacatua sanguinea), the Galah cockatoo (Eolophus roseicapillus), and the black-headed caique (Pionites melanocephala), as well as the kea parrot (Nestor notabilis) and the snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus).

Tropical Birdland also features a restaurant, picnic area and play park, making it the perfect venue for a family outing in the English countryside.

Giant Ibis: On the Edge of Existence

July 22, 2014 by  
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Launched by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in January 2007, the EDGE of Existence program is a global conservation initiative that focuses on threatened species with unique evolutionary characteristics. EDGE is an acronym for Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered, which sums up some of the criteria for being included on the EDGE list. Recently scientists from the ZSL and Yale University assessed the 9,993 recorded bird species in the world and listed the top 100 according to various scientific parameters. The top ten on the list, from one to ten, includes the giant ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea); the New Caledonian owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles savesi); the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus); the kakapo (Strigops habroptila); the kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus); Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis); the Forest owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti); the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi); Christmas Island frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi); and the Sumatran ground cuckoo (Carpococcyx viridis).

As the world’s largest ibis, the giant ibis measures up to 106 cm in length with an upright standing height of up to a meter and weighing 4.2 kg on average. They have long, curved beaks that they use for foraging in shallow waters and between vegetation, with their diets including aquatic invertebrates, crustaceans, small reptiles and amphibians, as well as earthworms, locusts, mole-crickets, cicadas and other insects. Their feathers are dark gray-brown in color, with silver-grey wing tips and black crossbars. Their heads are dark grey in color and devoid of feathers and their eyes are dark red. Their legs are orange and they have yellow-brown beaks. There are thought to be only 230 pairs of giant ibis left in the wild, and these are all located in northern Cambodia, although there have been unconfirmed sightings in southern Laos and in Vietnam’s Yok Don National Park. Because of their remote location, not much is known about the lifespan and breeding patterns of these giant birds, however, it is known that they nest in trees, generally away from human settlements, and the female lays two eggs which both parents tend to.

As is the case with many endangered bird species around the world, the greatest threat to the giant ibis is humans who clear the wetlands for cultivation and decimate forests for timber, while the increase in human populations results in domestic settlements encroaching on previously unoccupied land. Conflict in the region has also wreaked havoc on bird populations, and the giant ibis is hunted as a food source.

There are some ecotourism initiatives in the region which draw attention to the plight of the giant ibis, but the fact remains that it is considered critically endangered and is in need of protection to prevent it from becoming extinct. Programs such as Edge bring the plight of these endangered birds to the attention of the public, increasing their chances of becoming the focus of conservation efforts.

The Plight of the Red Knot

January 21, 2014 by  
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Breeding in the Canadian Artic and wintering in Argentina and Chile, red knots undertake an epic migration journey of around 9,300 miles (15,000 km) twice every year. In order to complete the voyage successfully, red knots (Calidris canutus) require top quality food sources, and previously they have found this in abundance in the shape of horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay. However, it’s been noted that red knot numbers have declined drastically since the turn of the century, with one of the main reasons being the decline in horseshoe crabs that have been harvested for commercial gain. Without sufficient fuel, these medium-sized shorebirds may not make it back to their Arctic breeding grounds, or if they do, they may be too weak to breed successfully, and considering that nearly 90 percent of the red knot population use Delaware Bay on their migration route, the lack of food could result in the species becoming endangered, or extinct.

Recognizing this problem, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have proposed that red knots be classified as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Data reveals that there has been about a 75 percent decline in red knot numbers since the 1980s, with the rate of decline increasing sharply after the year 2000, coinciding with the decline in horseshoe crab populations. Red knots arrive at Delaware Bay just as horseshoe crabs arrive on the beaches to lay their eggs in shallow holes they dig in the sand. Each female lays up to 120,000 eggs in batches, which are then fertilized by the male that hitched a ride on her back to the beach. Shorebirds, including the red knot, eat many thousands of these protein rich eggs in the two week period before they hatch.

When red knots arrive at Delaware Bay, they are quite exhausted and emaciated. They need to rebuild their strength and stock up on fat reserves for the arduous journey ahead. As they feast on the eggs, they undergo a number of interesting physiological changes. As documented by the FWS, these include an increase in fat stores, and an increase in size of the chest (pectoral) muscles and heart, while the gizzard, stomach, intestines, liver and leg muscles of the birds decrease in size, all in preparation for the last leg of their migration.

While the decline of horseshoe crab eggs as a food source is a serious problem for red knots, it is not the only problem they face. The FWS notes that climate change is altering the terrain they breed in and impacting their diets on their home turf. Rising sea-levels and coastal development are other issues. But these are beyond the control of conservationists concerned with the plight of migratory birds. What can (and likely will) change is when harvesting of horseshoe crabs takes place, so that when the red knots arrive they have first choice of the horseshoe crabs’ eggs to fuel up for the last leg of their journey.

Conservation of the Honduran Emerald Hummingbird

January 29, 2013 by  
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There are more than 338 recorded hummingbird species worldwide, and many birding enthusiasts would agree that they are top of the list as the most interesting little birds of the nearly 10,000 bird species found around the world. With their brilliant iridescent coloring, wings flapping in a blur and ability to dart in all directions, or hover in one spot, hummingbirds are extremely entertaining to watch.

Interestingly, the color of a hummingbird’s gorget (throat feathers) is not a result of feather pigmentation, but of light refraction caused by the structure of the feathers. They are unable to hop or walk, but can move sideways while perching. The smallest species is the bee hummingbird, endemic to the main island of Cuba and weighing only 1.6-2 grams with a length of 5-6 cm. Up to 30 percent of the hummingbird’s weight is in the muscles used in flight – the pectoral muscles. With wings that beat between 50 and 200 flaps per second and an average heart rate of more than 1,200 beats per minute, a hummingbird uses an amazing amount of energy and must consume up to half of its weight in sugar daily. They harvest nectar from flowers with fringed, forked tongues that lick 10-15 times per second.

The rufous hummingbird migrates a distance of more than 3,000 miles from its Alaskan and Canadian nesting grounds to its Mexican winter habitat – the longest migration of all the hummingbird species. Some hummingbird species such as the rufous, calliope, broad-tailed, Anna’s, black-chinned and Costa’s are known to inter-breed and create hybrid species, making the birder’s identification task more challenging.

Following the completion of a species status review in 2012, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing that the Honduran Emerald hummingbird be listed as endangered. Endemic to five small valleys in the Central American country of Honduras, it’s estimated that the Honduran Emerald hummingbird population has decreased to fewer than 1,500. With loss of habitat being the primary cause of the decline in numbers, it is feared the decline will continue as land is cleared for establishing plantations and pastures for cattle. The good news for the brightly colored little bird is that the Honduran government is aware of the problem and has formed the Honduran Emerald Hummingbird Habitat Management Area which includes dry forest habitat suitable for the Honduran Emerald hummingbird and may very well turn the decline around.

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